The Final Ride of Glen Campbell: Musical Highwayman

The more I think about it, the more jazzed and grateful I am to see Glen Campbell on his Goodbye Tour tonight.

Because I’m Mister Safety, I drove around in the snow this morning, listening to a live Campbell album and psyching myself up. Obviously, it’s gonna be a pretty heavy evening — in the context of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Campbell’s farewell tour has a lot more gravity and truth-in-advertising than, oh, Cher or the Who and their respective 17 farewell tours.

There have been, naturally, critics and fans who suggest that Campbell is being exploited, and that it’s cruel to send him out like a feeble circus horse to trot around the Big Top one more time for profit and for the entertainment of ghouls like, well, I suppose, myself.

But I don't see it that way. As Campbell demonstrated on the Grammys telecast, and as reviews from other stops on the tour hit the Internet, it’s clear that the disease is in a relatively early stage. He forgets a few lyrics, gets a bit confused in between-song conversation sometimes — but clearly knows his situation and can make light of it.

Too, his voice sounds good and his guitarist’s skills — never forget he was one of the most sought after session players in the heyday of Hollywood studio era — are in top shape. And don’t the doctors tell us that some of the best therapy for Alzheimer patients is to exercise the body and mind and to occupy oneself with beloved activities and amongst loved ones?

Campbell’s band includes three of his children as well as longtime friend and pianist T.J. Kuenster, and the set list includes an array of hits that boggles the mind as they caress the ears, one after another. Not only have Allen Toussaint (“Southern Nights”) and John Hartford (“Gentle On My Mind”) benefitted from what are now the definitive versions of their songs, but Campbell is basically The Official Interpreter of material by Jimmy Webb — one of the greatest songwriters of all time. And it's hard to imagine any version of Webb's tunes being done better or more intuitively than Campbell's. They are/were a perfect artistic match.

And, so, in the Mohegan Sun Arena tonight — about eight years since I saw Campbell in that facility’s Wolf Den — I’ll be privileged to watch him, one last time, as he nuances Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Where’s the Playground, Susie.”

Maybe he’ll even do Webb’s “Highwayman,” another Campbell favorite. It’s a song about death and resurrection — or at least reincarnation — and each first-person verse describes a new existence for the Highwayman in the endless cycle of Being. Read the words to the final verse and think Good Thoughts for Glen Campbell:

I'll fly a starship
Across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I'll be back again
and again, and again, and again, and again... 


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